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The change in policy follows an incident in which UVa students bolted when approached by armed agents.
Saturday, July 6, 2013
State Alcoholic Beverage Control officials announced late Friday afternoon an "immediate change" in agency practice to include a uniformed agent in operations like the one that landed a University of Virginia student in jail following the purchase of sparkling water.
An agent "in a police uniform" will "act as a contact person" when plainclothes agents approach people suspected of breaking the law, the ABC said in a two-page statement. ABC said the uniform likely will consist of a utility belt and an "overgarment" emblazoned with the word "police" in white letters. The agency does not currently have a police uniform, a spokeswoman said Monday.
The change came a week after the story broke about the case of Elizabeth Daly, 20. Authorities charged the UVa student with three felonies April 11, when plainclothes ABC agents confronted her and two sorority sisters in the parking lot outside the Harris Teeter store at the Barracks Road Shopping Center.
Agents suspected the LaCroix sparkling water carried by one of the women to be a case of beer, ABC said. The women said in written statements provided to The Daily Progress that they were "terrified" by the sight of plainclothes agents flashing what Daly described as "unidentifiable badges." Six agents had gathered around Daly's SUV - one drawing a weapon - by the time she decided to drive off, the women said. ABC officials said her SUV grazed two agents. No one was hurt.
Prosecutors say the women stopped when they saw a car with flashing lights and a siren and apologized repeatedly when they realized the agents were law enforcement officers. Authorities charged Daly with two felony counts of assaulting a law enforcement officer and a felony count of eluding police. Prosecutors dropped the charges June 27.
The story triggered a massive public outcry that prompted the agency a week ago to launch what it called "a thorough review of the incident." An earlier review found no wrongdoing, ABC said.
In a statement released last week, ABC said authorities arrested Daly not for the water purchase but for failing to comply with agents' demands and striking two of them with the SUV. ABC officials acknowledged one of the agents unholstered a weapon, but said he did not point it at anyone.
"Out of tens of thousands of contacts between ABC special agents and suspected underage alcohol purchasers over many years, this is the only time we have experienced an escalation of events to such a serious degree," ABC said Friday.
The agency's statement called the incident "unfortunate" and "an anomaly."
ABC officials would not say whether the "contact person" would be the agent to approach people of interest. Officials called that "tactical information."
"It is the department's belief that this change will further clarify the nature of the stop by law enforcement and help put citizens who are approached at ease regarding the identity of the officer or officers," the statement said.
ABC's announcement came a day after authorities released a recording of a frantic 911 call placed by Anne Downey, one of the women in the SUV, on the night of Daly's arrest. The women say they panicked, dialed 911 and tried to drive to a police station.
Women can be heard screaming on the recording. The front-seat passenger said she was on edge after spending several hours at an event in which sexual assault survivors recounted their attacks.
Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman has said listening to the recording influenced his decision to drop the charges, all Class 6 felonies carrying maximum penalties of five years in prison and $2,500 in fines for each offense.
"It wouldn't be the right thing to do to prosecute this," Chapman said last week.
Downey said she hopes their experience effects change.
"I never want another woman to be punished for doing everything in her power to stay safe," Downey wrote in an email. "Throughout childhood, girls are told repeatedly that real police officers will understand if you feel unsafe, call 911 and get to a safer environment, so other women that have grown up hearing that should not have to second-guess their instincts in an effort to avoid arrest and felony charges."
The agency would not say Friday whether the officials reviewing the case this time participated in the previous review.
"We at ABC are very grateful no one was seriously injured and all parties involved are safe," the agency said.
ABC's statement said that since the incident, agency enforcement personnel have met several times with groups at UVa "in an attempt to familiarize the community with ABC law enforcement operations and educate students regarding how to ensure their safety during a stop."
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